In recent years, metal 3D printing has experienced rapid growth thanks to technological developments, characterized by the arrival of ambitious manufacturers who propose innovative and increasingly affordable manufacturing processes and a portfolio of materials that every day is broader.
Metal 3D printing is prevalent in many industries such as aerospace, automotive, or medical. It enables complex metal parts to create a relatively low price compared to traditional manufacturing techniques such as machining or vacuum forming.
Thanks to the various metal 3D printers on the market today, the opportunities are more numerous. Between powder coating, metal deposition, and hybrid systems, professionals have many options. Discover our guide to know everything about 3D metal printing, materials, actors, applications.
3D printing technologies
Imagined as early as the 1970s, powder melting relies on a relatively simple principle: a source of energy from sintering or melting a metal powder to create the final piece layer by layer.
The best-known technology based on this principle is undoubtedly Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS), patented in the 1990s by ERD and EOS.
The deposition of metal with concentrated energy could be similar to the deposit of molten material but using metal. We also distinguish the method developed by Irepa Laser with direct additive laser construction (CLAD).
The powder is projected by the nozzle and fuses at its exit through a laser beam to form a weld bead. This method allows printing directly on a part in contrast to the melting of the powder layer. BeAM, the French company, uses this technology.
In the 1990s, CIRTES developed a new hybrid method that combines machining and additive manufacturing: layering. It all starts with creating an STL or CAD file that then decompose into different layers in which positioning inserts and stiffeners place.
These layers of metal are manufactured, whether by micro milling, laser cutting, wire cutting, or any other cutting process. They then assemble to form the finished part.
Cold spray is another process, also known as Cold Spray. The objective is to bond the metallic powders by projecting them cold on support. The projection is secured with helium. It is a metal 3D printing method that is still little used compared to others because the gas in question is relatively expensive.
Some manufacturers have developed their own proprietary technologies that stand out from the great families already mentioned. We think of the magnetic handling of metal developed by Vader Systems, or the Metal Injection Molding inspired technology inspired by Pollen AM.
Metal 3D printing Method
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS): Uses a laser to melt layers of metal powder.
Laser Selective Melting (SLM)
Goes one-step beyond powder melting and actually melts the powder. This works well with pure materials like titanium or steel instead of mixed compounds like most plastics.
Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS):
The exact process is use as in SLS, but this term use when referring to the sintering process of metal alloys, compared to the SLS of plastic, glass, and ceramic. If you want to know more about DMLS, Spencer Wright, a manufacturing guru, documented his experiences with printed titanium parts in detail.
Electron Beam Melting (EBM):
Dust layers fused by an electron beam to melt metal into powder. Support structures are necessary for this method. This system provides a lot of strength in the model due to the stable temperature in the layers during fusion.
Can metal be printed on a desktop printer?
Unfortunately, most metal 3D printers price above $ 250,000, which is a high price to pay for printing forks or other household items. An engineer decided to do it himself and built a working prototype of a metal desktop 3D printer. Another company, MatterFab, is working on a low-cost metal 3D printer for home use, which uses laser technology to melt layers of metallic powder and create an object. They are in the process of testing their prototypes with the first users, so they are not yet available to the public. There seems to be innovation in home metal 3D printing, but nothing reasonably priced to hit the market yet.